Formally NE2 Food Social, Artisan has the look and feel of a trendy Manhattan apartment. It’s been aesthetically tweaked in its new guise; there are tall ceilings, exposed brick and lots of wood. There’s plenty of expensive art on display too. We picked the table next to a 25-foot glass wall that contains art from The Biscuit Factory and lets you peer into the gallery next door.
Part of the reason the restaurant underwent a rebrand in the spring was to integrate it more with The Biscuit Factory. The menu has also had a refresh. It’s brilliantly British and original, with a couple of local nods like hearty North Shields fish soup, Northumbrian goats curd and Brinkburn cheese soufflé. It’s a quality over quantity approach (there are just seven starters and seven mains to choose from) but a testament to its appeal is reflected in the fact our host was twice turned away while we deliberated what to order.
We shared some focaccia bread (£2.95) which came with oliferra oil and a dukka mixture. The dukka lent the bread a slight aniseed kick, which I normally won’t touch, but it didn’t deter me from devouring most of the loaf.
My starter: coarse pork and pistachio terrine with toasted brioche and English mustard (£6.50), was a chilled, moreish slab of meat. It had a satisfying, chewy bite courtesy of the whole pistachio nuts embedded in the pressed pork, and applying the merest smidgen of the accompanying mustard set off an explosion of taste. My dining partner’s fresh crab, with asparagus, wood sorrel and lemon rapeseed dressing (£7.50) was wonderfully light and so beautifully presented it wouldn’t have looked out of place on display in the adjacent gallery.
One thing they get absolutely right at Artisan is the timing between courses. The second I was beginning to wonder where my next course was, it arrived. I had a medium chargrilled 10oz rib-eye steak (£24) for my main. Flavoursome and tender, the sauce had a subtle sweetness to it that worked beautifully with the thick mushrooms and wild garlic it came with.
I’ll take thin, crispy French fries over wedges or thick-cut chips every time, so didn’t hesitate to order them as a side. Lightly seasoned with Gruyère cheese and rosemary, my dining partner commandeered half of these to go alongside her confit pork belly, sarladaise potato, caramelised apple and wild leeks (£16.50). The pork was very pink and succulent, and worked nicely with the tangy apple. The drinks menu here is four times the size of the food menu and both mains lent themselves well to our wine choice: a really rich Chilean shiraz.
Between our main course and dessert a mango sorbet arrived to reset our palettes. Time had flown, we’d been in Artisan two hours. You’re never rushed here, while the food and decor lean more towards formal, fine dining, the atmosphere is very laid-back and unfussy.
I can’t remember the last time I ordered a dessert that wasn’t sticky toffee pudding. I should probably broaden my horizons but I’ve come to regard myself as a leading authority on sticky toffee across the region. Artisan’s is right up there with the best: steaming hot cake (with a firm base), hot, rich toffee sauce and a scoop of vanilla-specked ice cream.
My partner’s dark chocolate torte was a serious feat of culinary engineering, the components worked together like a well-oiled machine. The torte was topped with crushed bitter lemon that cut through the dark chocolate like a knife, while the base was made from crushed hazelnuts and praline. A scoop of ice cream (rolled in the same biscuit base) completed the gorgeous combination.
We left wondering if we’d ever need to eat again. If that was to be the case, it was a fitting last supper.
0191 260 5411 www.artisannewcastle.com